Make it Thrive Podcast: Small Stuff Counts

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Make it Thrive Podcast: The Small Stuff Counts

This post is a write-up of my company culture podcast, Make It Thrive. You can listen to this podcast in its full glory here, or on Spotify or Google Podcasts.

This week I’m talking to Zoe Whitman, Founder of But The Books. In this feature we discuss why the small stuff matters in company culture.

Hi, Zoe.  Thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast.  Tell us a bit about your experience in different company cultures.

Sure.  I’m an accountant.  I started my career in local government, so I suppose you could say that’s quite a slow paced, old fashioned culture.  I actually got to my first job and I was told I’d have a job for life and I don’t think you hear that anywhere anymore.  

There’s a lot of red tape when it comes to corporate cultures, but what was your biggest frustration about company culture or lack of culture in those types of organisations?

I think it’s a big cliché, but there’s no doubt that I was a really small part of a massive machine, and sometimes I felt like we weren’t particularly well looked after because it’s easy for anything to be somebody else’s problem.  I found it quite difficult to get things done and to get things changed. Even if everyone was saying, “This needs to change,” often you’d have to take something to a committee or get it approved by a management team or something like that.  

I went through quite a difficult recruitment process when I joined one employer.  Maybe that should be a lesson not to go for that, but I think that’s part of being in a really large organisation.  It’s just quite difficult to get anything done and get the information that you need, so quite a few frustrations, I suppose.

woman being interviewed with a video camera

I think onboarding’s a really good one to be frustrated about.  I know so many people say it is the first impression of working for that company and it’s so difficult because during the recruitment process everybody’s trying to look their best. The candidates are trying to look their best, the employer’s trying to look their best and perhaps that leads to a misunderstanding when it comes to onboarding because the expectations are so different. 

Yeah, definitely.  I think in this particular case they were recruiting a large team and there was a recruitment consultancy involved and loads of people going to loads of interviews.  A bit of a conveyor belt system, and that does happen a lot when work moves from one team somewhere else in the country or abroad into the UK, or into another team, and then you’re trying to recruit these massive teams.  I can see why it’s difficult to get it right, but I think from the point of view of the person being interviewed, it didn’t feel great. 

"The flexibility works because we trust each other."

Do you think that kind of flexibility can be offered within a corporate culture or do you think it’s really hard for people to find that right balance?  The right to request flexible working came in a few years’ ago now, but it still seems like there’s a bit of difficulty around that area.

I don’t necessarily think you’re put into a box.  I think when you go part-time it can affect your career, just simply because you’re not in the office as much as other people so you can’t build up the same level of experience as quickly as somebody who’s in the office full-time.

I do know other Mums whose requests for flexible working have been turned down, so that must be really difficult for them.  You don’t really see jobs advertised as part-time or flexible hours. If you’re an external candidate, you tend to see them as full-time jobs.  I still think if you’re looking for a flexible job or a part-time job, you should still apply for those jobs but you should say that you want them on a part-time basis.

So how does the culture differ now to the corporate culture that you were quite used to?  How have you created your own company culture and tried to create that balance for people as well?

Well, everyone that I’ve recruited works part-time.  That was driven by a business need really because I had a growing business and I wanted to scale.  It’s a bookkeeping practice, so we take on work for small businesses who need help with their accounts and tax returns.  I didn’t need to take on somebody full-time straightaway. I needed some flexible part-time resource who could just work whenever and pick up different jobs.  So that’s actually worked quite well in allowing me to take on people who can work flexible hours. We don’t all work together every day in the same location, but we’re in constant contact. We use Trello, so we can have a list of the jobs that are happening and people can comment on what work they’ve done and things like that.  That’s allowed us to work different times.  

I’ve just tried to involve the team a lot in what the business does and how we grow and how we change.  We were looking for office space and I got the team involved. I was like, “Right, where we would like to be?” That’s really nice and I think if you can get your team involved in making those important decisions, they buy into things and they’re more motivated and more committed.  

We have a monthly team meeting with all the sort of things that you’d expect if you were a corporate business.  I try and have one-to-ones with everybody, but because I involve them in conversations about the strategy we have this trust and I think it works. The flexibility works because we trust each other.  They know I trust them and they respect me and they do what need to be done, and I find that they’re very conscientious perhaps because I’m not looking over their shoulder all the time, they need to justify what they’ve been doing a bit more.

To listen to the full podcast, visit Anchor FM, Spotify or Google Podcasts.


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    About The Author

    Lizzie Benton is a people and culture specialist who supports organisations in developing a unique company culture and building engaged teams. Lizzie has been recognised as a millennial changing the world of work, and has been featured in the Metro, HuffingtonPost and has spoken across the UK on employee engagement. When not consulting or running a workshop, Lizzie can be found in rural Lincolnshire enjoying afternoon tea and fresh air.